WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE FRAME OF A TOP FUEL DRAGSTER BREAKS AT 300 MPH?
Today’s Top Fuel dragster is quite literally a marvel of modern engineering. As the fastest accelerating vehicle on the planet, the 11,000 horsepower machines are basically an insane engine with a long, skinny car attached and a driver strapped inside. With the power of the supercharged, nitromethane burning engine propelling the cars to speeds topping 330 miles per hour in less than 4 seconds, the forces at play from the nose of the car to the rear are beyond extreme, but in most cases, the chassis handles the torture like a champ. In most cases.
However, even with some of the best fabricators in the world building the chassis, things sometimes go wrong. Unfortunately, at the speeds these cars see, things going wrong can prove disastrous. Luckily for the drivers, the focus on safety is just as important as the focus on speed, so they know they’re very well protected. Former Top Fuel wheelman Cory McClenathan found out first hand just how quickly things can go from good to bad at the 2006 running of the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, Tennessee.
McClenathan’s Fram sponsored dragster looked to be on a pretty solid pass in qualifying when the frame broke just behind the driver’s compartment. With the massive rear wing pushing the rear of the car down and the front wings of the car pushing the nose down, the stresses on the middle of the chassis are unimaginable, and when the frame broke the wing actually forced the middle of the car upward. At that point, Cory was little more than a passenger along for the ride. The front half of the car whipped around the heavier engine and skidded and tumbled, slamming McClenathan into the wall with an impact estimated to have been as high as 112 G’s of force.
As scary as the crash looked, McClenathan was able to walk away with little more than bumps and bruises thanks to the awesome safety innovations featured in these cars.
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